August 27, 2017

spent some time on our construction site this week, and I am amazed at all that has been accomplished and the precision with which it is being done.

In July, our engineering team finalized the plans for the restoration of the pillars and the portico roof.  This is a unique project, so there isn’t a manual for exactly how to do it, but our engineers and contractors relish figuring it all out.

The pillars themselves are steel-reinforced concrete clad in “thin” layers of granite and limestone.   This is completely different from the original pillars.  They were huge granite blocks stacked around a brick core.  Pillars 2.0 are designed to last until the Bicentennial!

I was away the week they created the concrete core, but the guys were happy to share how they did it.  First they created a rebar cage which consisted of a dozen 1 ½ inch steel rods that were erected vertically in the pillars’ foot print.  Each bar measures 31 feet long—the height of the pillars.  (I wish I’d seen how they navigated moving 31 feet of steel).

Once the rebar was set, concrete forms were built and the concrete was poured.  FIFTY THOUSAND POUNDS!  That’s per pillar…so WOW.

After a few days to let the concrete cure, the crew came in to start cladding the pillars with granite and limestone.  The granite is reclaimed—from us.  Some of the original huge pieces that were  removed were split and polished for the “footings” of each pillar.  I’m really happy that we added this touch.   This echoes the granite base around the Cathedral.

There will be two crews working on the cladding, but our contractor is a smart guy.  He only brought in one crew for now.  That team is figuring out the best way to do the work (remember…no manual) and then the second team will follow their system.  Take a look—you’ll see that the north pillar is ahead of the south.

This is precision work.  Each 300 pound piece needs to be installed perfectly. 
Straight matters. 

Thinking ahead, we are now making all of the decisions for the finishing touches—the lighting, landscaping, and hardscape. Prior to this work, there was very limited lighting under the portico and none on the pillars themselves, so we are working to correct that.  We want the Cathedral to look warm and welcoming to folks driving by on Raynor Avenue.  Lighting will certainly help with that. 

We are awaiting design concepts from the landscape architect for both hardscape and landscape.  A few years ago we removed the old concrete that formed a gathering space in front of the Cathedral.  We replaced it with paver bricks and added square planters that also served as seating. 

Well, all of that is gone—a casualty of construction.  The planters and trees (which had overgrown their space) were removed to make room for the construction work.  The pavers are there, but many are cracked from the weight of the heavy equipment.  Our contractor knew this would happen, so replacing them has been part of the budget since day one.

We are working with a landscape architect who has great credentials—he did the courtyard at Holy Name Cathedral.  When we met, I was impressed that he understood the significance and symbolism of various aspects of our campus, but he also understood the
practicalities of processions and big crowds.  I can’t wait to see his concepts. (I was sorry we couldn’t show off our Mother Teresa Prayer Garden!)

We’ll also take this opportunity with the big equipment on site to renovate the two flag poles.  Both could use a good painting and one has settled in the ground a bit and needs some adjusting.

With all of the scaffolding, it’s hard to see the progress with a quick glance.  (I couldn’t spot one of the workers who was up top until he waved.) Take a few minutes to stop and see how far this project has come.

Eileen Hooks Gutierrez
Director of Development and Projects Liaison 815-722-6653, extension 242





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